The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
The Great God Pan is a novella written by Arthur Machen. On publication it was widely denounced by the press as degenerate and horrific because of its decadent style and sexual content, although it has since garnered a reputation as a classic of horror. Machen’s story was only one of many at the time to focus on Pan as a useful symbol for the power of nature and paganism. (via Goodreads)
I was surprised to find that this story begins with brain surgery. The 1890s were an interesting time for science as it started to truly butt heads with ideas supernatural in nature. In the first section, Dr. Raymond takes the concept of opening a mind rather literally. The surgery is performed on an unfortunate women, Mary. Her mind *is* opened—to the possession of the Great God Pan. Mary later gives birth and the child, Helen, is taken to the country. Time passes…
The next several sections of the book are a collection of second hand reports. A woman is corrupting men. Things are being done in bedrooms. The sexy details are all implied. The men are ruined, frightened to death or influenced to commit suicide. Our two secondary narrators, Villiers and Clarke, piece together information and realize that this women is Helen, Mary’s daughter. They finally catch up with her and convince *her* to commit suicide. In her death throes, she transforms from human to animal, to something more primordial.
The Great God Pan was a scandalous book. In a post-Fifty Shades of Grey, the-internet-is-for-porn world, a reader might be left wondering what acts of debauchery are being perpetrated. Still, there is an element that may be radical to a modern reader: it’s Helen who has the power after her mother Mary has suffered at the hands of Dr. Raymond and Pan. Female sexuality is also given a predatory, feral sheen. Women are obviously very dangerous. This was a selection from the Obscure Literary Monsters list. I find it odd that the monster is supposedly Pan and not Helen.
Publishing info, my copy: 1894
Acquired: Project Gutenberg